Easter is the most audacious day of the Christian year. It is the day that we proclaim that love will overcome hate, that hope is greater than fear, that life is stronger than death. It is the day we declare that a man was raised from the dead. It’s the day we promise that no matter how deep your sadness and sorrow, one day you will experience joy. It’s the day we assert that the horrors of this world, pandemics and violence and wars and the like, yes they are real but they are not the ultimate reality. It’s the day when we encourage you to live your life as if the impossible were possible.
How dare we say such things?
Some years ago, right in the middle of Holy Week I watched the state funeral for the Honourable Jim Flaherty which took place at St. James, the Anglican Cathedral in Toronto. There were 700 people inside the Cathedral, and many more outside, all gathered to mark the death of this man. The funeral began, as many do, with eulogies, and as these were spoken, there were visible signs of grief. There were tears and there were shaky voices.
And when the eulogies had finished, the whole assembly stood as one and sang “Praise My Soul the King of Heaven”. And I thought to myself as I watched, “How is it that we dare to sing ‘Praise My Soul the King of Heaven’ when we gather to mark a death?”
St. Albans Church, where I used to be the priest, is the home of Centre 454, a day program for those who are homeless or live in poverty. Centre 454 is one of five Community Ministries of our Diocese. The tag-line, or motto if you like, of our Community Ministries, including Centre 454, is “Choose Hope”. Every day, there are hundreds of men, women and children who walk through the doors of Centre 454, Cornerstone, St. Luke’s Table and The Well.
Often these are people who have been beaten up by life. People who suffer from mental illness and addiction. People who are trying to escape abusive relationships and violence. People who have been worn down by poverty and have been told over and over again that they’re no good. People who know grief and despair. And yet, when one of these people walks through our doors, with the deck of life stacked against them, how is it that we dare to tell them to choose hope?
Earlier this year, we worked our way through Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount, and we heard Jesus say that we should love our enemies and pray for those who hate us. And we talked about that, and we acknowledged that it would be hard for us, and that we would probably never actually be able to do it. But we took it seriously. How is it that we dare to even take seriously let alone agree with someone who tells us to love those who hate us?
On another Sunday we heard about the time that Peter asks Jesus,” if a brother or sister sins against me, how often should I forgive? Should I forgive as many as seven times?” And Jesus responds, “Not seven times, but, I tell you, seventy times seven.” And when we tell this story, how is it that we dare to think that Jesus is the one that’s making sense rather than Peter?
We dare to say and do these things because we are an Easter people.
We dare to say and do these things because we are a people who believe that life is stronger than death, that love will overcome hate, that hope is greater than fear, that forgiveness is better than judgment, and that the suffering and grief of this life is real but is not the ultimate reality.
We believe these things because we are an Easter people. Easter changes everything.
It certainly did for Mary Magdalene. As our gospel reading opens this morning, Mary is not yet an Easter person. She is still living in the aftermath of Friday. The events of the past week have unfolded for her with dizzying speed, the false hope of Palm Sunday and the triumphal entry into Jerusalem, the gathering storm as the enemies of Jesus plotted against him, the pain and grief of witnessing the gruesome death of the man she loved, the fear and uncertainty of what comes next. She has lost the most important thing in her life, and it is impossible to get it back. It is still dark when Mary makes her way to Jesus’ tomb on that Sunday morning. She goes to the tomb, I suppose, in an attempt to hang on to something of what she has lost. But when she sees that the stone has been removed from the tomb, she’s confused, she panics, and she runs to get help. The body has been stolen, it is perhaps the final indignity, that her enemies would even take away his dead body, the only reminder of him that she has left. She runs, she gets help. But when the Peter and the other disciple have come and gone, Mary is left alone once more, weeping.
Have we not, will we not all experience such things at some point in our lives?
And yet I believe that it is often in these moments that Jesus calls us and speaks our name.
Calls us out of grief and fear, out of confusion and sadness.
Calls us into an encounter, into a relationship with the living God.
Calls us to believe that what we thought was impossible really is possible.
Mary hears that voice. She hears her name, and that changes everything.
At the beginning of our liturgy this morning, we began by singing ‘Jesus Christ is risen today’, and in our opening words we proclaimed ‘Christ is risen, the Lord is risen indeed, alleluia!’ and I get why we as a community of faith do that.
But Mary’s proclamation is much more personal. “I have seen the Lord”. She is proclaiming a personal encounter, a life-changing experience, a life-giving relationship. She’s talking about something that matters for her in a very personal way.
Sometimes we make the mistake of thinking that Easter is about something that happened to Jesus. It’s not. Easter is about something that happens to us, to you and to me. Something that gives us the courage, the strength, the sheer audacity to declare that life is indeed stronger than death, that love will indeed overcome hate, that hope is indeed greater than fear, that forgiveness is indeed better than judgement, and that the suffering and grief that we experience are not the last word.
None of this is self-evident nor obvious. In fact, there are many who look at the evidence of history and the state of the world around us who think that we are fools for believing such things. There are those who think that only a fool would mark a death by singing hymns of praise to God. That only one who is naïve would urge a broken person to choose hope.
But we are an Easter people. We do these apparently foolish things because we are people of faith. We believe in the power of life, love, hope and forgiveness because Christ was raised from the dead, and appeared to Mary, and then to Peter, and then to the twelve, and then to more than five hundred brothers and sisters. We believe because these first witnesses risked their own lives to tell others about what they had experienced first-hand. And we believe because we continue in a whole variety of surprising and exciting and confusing ways to experience Christ as real and alive in our own lives.
I have seen the Lord.
We are an Easter people.
Homily: Easter Sunday April 17 2022 Trinity 10am
Readings: 1 Cor 15.1-11; Ps 118.1-2,14-24; Acts 10.34-43; John 20.1-18